Assault on Robert Crossley & Thomas Cockcroft



Around 20 minutes past midnight on 6th August 1839, Robert Crossley and Thomas Cockcroft were attacked by a gang of highwaymen as their gig was at Lower Brear. They were returning from Doncaster wool market. Crossley was driving the gig.

The gang comprised

all of whom were intent on robbing the merchants, but Cockcroft leapt over a wall into a field and placed his purse and several promissory notes in the grass where they were not found. The victims were not seriously harmed, and the gang escaped.

The gang had committed several robberies in the neighbourhood of Burnley and in the districts around Halifax. Newspaper reported that

their outrages upon life and property were making the night hideous where they were accustomed to perpetrate their deeds of wickedness

The gang were later traced to Burnley where they had carried out similar attacks. 2 of the men were captured at Burnley Race Course. Rushworth was captured but the others escaped and made their way to Dublin.

The Halifax constable captured the men in Ireland and brought them back to Halifax. When the Duke of Leeds coach carrying the men to Halifax stopped at the New Inn, Soyland to change horses, 2 of the gang – Titterington and Dawson – escaped. They were chained together like Siamese Twins and travelled around 6 miles before they were quickly recaptured.

On 5th March 1840, the men were brought to trial at York, and all were transported.

An item entitled NORTHERN CIRCUIT – York, March 10 in the Morning Post [Thursday 12 March 1840] reported

(Before Mr Justice Erskine)

Michael Dawson Robert Titterington William Barber Joshua Wilson and Benjamin Rushworth were indicted for the highway robbery of Thomas Cockroft, at Halifax, on 5th of August last.

It appeared from the evidence of Mr Cockroft, as well as of a Mr Crossley, that they were proceeding in a gig along the road to Halifax on the night of 5th of August last.

It was about twelve o'clock, a clear starlight night. They had arrived within two miles of Halifax, when they met a man, who attracted their notice by crossing off the footpath passing in front of the horse and along the side of the gig, looking very inquisitively in their faces. They had passed on but a little way when they saw five other men, who, on their approach, spread themselves across the road; and on the gig coming up, two of them, whom Mr Crossley identified as Wilson and Rushworth, seized the horse by the head.

He had seen the parties before in the streets of Halifax, though not acquainted with them. Of Wilson he had a particularly good view, he having seized the horse in front, with a hand on each side of the bridle. Mr Crossley stood up in the gig and whipped the horse, but in the meantime some of the men came behind, and he was pulled out of the gig upon the rod. The others than left the horse's head, and he was seized by three of them, among whom was Barber, and thrust with great violence against a low wall at the road side, over which Mr Cockroft had already made his way in an endeavour to escape. They pulled out his watch, and got some halfpence from his pocket. Barker then cried out

D-n him; let's have him on his back

upon which they dragged him into the road, and threw him down, Barber jumping violently on him with his knees. They then rifled his pockets. The prosecutor had, however, before he was overtaken, succeeded in depositing in the grass his purse and a pocket-book containing some bills. The robbers, however, succeeded in finding in a pocket inside his waistcoat a parcel containing another bill, and ten 5l notes of the Halifax Joint-stock Bank and the Huddersfield and Halifax Union. Dawson, during the search, said repeatedly

D-n thee, if thee mak'st any noise, we'll stick thee in a moment

His trousers, coat and waistcoat were torn to pieces, and his watch, an old fashioned gold one, taken away. His keys, a pocket book, with some fishing tackle, a comb, and some other articles, the robbers threw on the ground saying

Thou may'st take them

They seemed, however, disappointed at not finding gold, and Dawson, saying

D-n thee, where hast got thy cash?

turned him on the other side to complete their examination. They found, however, but a few halfpence, and finally left him. As soon as he could move the prosecutor ran somewhat further down the field, through a hedge, and got to a farmhouse, when he alarmed the inhabitants, and returned with two men, one of them having a lantern concealed under his coat, to the spot where he had been robbed. They then heard the voices of the robbers, who seemed as if they were returning to the place. One of them was heard to say

My lads, I'll get over this way

They then showed the lantern, on which a volley of stones was thrown from the road, and they then took shelter under a hedge until the coast was clear. The prosecutor's purse was subsequently found where he had deposited it.

The prisoners were on the following day at the town of Keighley, about sixteen miles from Halifax, and remained there for two days; they ordered a quantity of clothes, which they paid for in notes of the Halifax Joint Stock Bank and the Huddersfield & Halifax Union Banks. Titterington had a great number of sovereigns in his possession.

Rushworth, Titterington, and Barber were on the 15th of August apprehended on Barnsley racecourse by three constables. The two former were almost immediately rescued. Barber was kept some time longer; but a cry being raised that the prisoners were Chartists, the mob took their part, and began, half in jest half in earnest, to jostle the constables. They were pushed down with a number of persons on the top of them, and Barber finally succeeded in getting away, carrying his handcuffs with him.

On the 24th of August Titterington was apprehended in Dublin. He gave his name as Thomas Thomson. Mr Cockroft's gold watch was found on his person, and a silver watch which he had pawned was found to be that which had been taken from Mr Crossley, and had his name engraved upon it.

The prisoners were all found Guilty

His Lordship sentenced Dawson, Titterington and Barber to transportation for life. Rushworth and Wilson, in-as much as their conduct had not been so bad as that of others, and they had rather endeavoured to protect Mr Crossley from further violence, were sentenced to transportation for fifteen years




© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:48 / 11th April 2021 / 10043

Page Ref: QQ_155

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